Dec 22, 2017

SEO: How to Optimize for Voice Search

The way people search for information online has changed significantly over the past couple of years. People are increasingly using voice search via their tablet, smartphones or voice assistant (like Google Home or Amazon Echo) to find what they’re looking for online. iPhone users rely on personal assistant Siri to get them what they need, Google voice search is popular on Android devices, and Microsoft’s assistant Cortana helps users navigate their PCs, smartphones, Xboxes, and other devices.

SEO and Voice Search.

According to Hitwise, nearly 60 percent of searches are now performed on a mobile device, and many of these are done through the voice search feature--to find local restaurants, get directions, order products, find out about the weather, and more. In fact, 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020, according to ComScore. As marketing professionals, we need to consider the impact that voice search is having (and will have) on SEO. here are some tips you can such to optimize for voice search.

Voice Search.

Understanding Voice Search

Before we jump into how you can optimize for voice search, there are some basics we need to cover. First, it’s important to understand that voice search is more natural and conversational in tone--and that it’s most often performed on a mobile device for local search purposes. Because they’re more natural, voice searches also tend to be longer than text-based queries.

Long tail keywords. Image Source: Purna Virji, citing Bing data.

Voice search, in general, is all about delivering on-the-go results in the location in which the user is currently located. Now that you understand how voice search is used, let’s get started with those tips.

1. Make Your Content Scannable

People who are searching the internet on their mobile devices are looking for content that’s been optimized for this platform. Make sure your content is easily readable, scannable and doesn’t have any annoying pop-ups or ads that could hinder them from getting the information they need. Use simple sentences, short paragraphs, and bold headers to break up your content as much as possible.

2. Claim your Google ‘My Business’ Listing.

If you haven’t claimed your Google My Business listing yet, now’s the time to do so! Claiming and optimizing your Google My Business listing is a great way to provide Google with additional details about your business, such as industry, phone number, address, business hours, and more. Keeping this property up-to-date increases your chances of showing up in the results when a relevant voice search is performed.

3. Read the Official User Guides

Even if you’re one of those individuals who doesn’t “do” directions, it’s worth reading the official guides to voice search for each major platform. Approach it as if you’ve just bought your first Windows, Android or iPhone smartphone, and read the guides to find out how you can best optimize your experience. While the information may seem basic, remember that there are many users who will be experiencing voice search for the first time.

Apple has an excellent guide on ways users can use Siri to find information on their phone or on the internet. Google and Cortana also have similar guides. You can also find great information in third-party guides like CNET’s complete list of Siri commands, Cortana commands, and Ok Google commands. Bookmark these resources, and reference them later when you need to remember phrases and questions people typically use for voice search. Another key source to bookmark is Google's newly-published Voice Search Quality Guidelines.

4. Focus on Long-Tail Keywords

We’ve already covered the fact that people use more “natural” speak when using voice search, so targeting long-tail keywords is a must. To do this, you must “think how people speak.” How would you ask particular questions? Or what kind of spoken questions might bring others to your site? This might be a different kind of long-tail than you’re used to. It’s more about real speech and less about keyword variations. You need to know and target as many variations as possible. Answer the Public offers a great tool for this. It appends search terms with words like “for” or “with” to dig deeper into searcher intent:

Voice search hotel.

You can also use Google Search Console to determine the actual queries that are bringing people to your site. At this time, there’s no way to tell which queries came from voice or text-based search, but Google has hinted that that may change in the future.

Another tactic you can use is documenting and recording the types of questions customers and prospects ask you/ your customer service representatives. Once you have this list of questions, start creating content pages that focus on those longer, more conversational terms.

5. Create Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) Pages

Another great way you can use the customer and SEO data you’ve collected is to create FAQ pages that focus on those long-tail keyphrases. Try to group common questions on the same page, and write as naturally as possible. If you need to create multiple pages to sound more natural, go with that approach. You want the search engines to have a best chance of pulling answers/information from your site, so anticipate direct, long-tail questions. At the beginning of each piece of content, you should also add in some quick answers to satisfy Google’s rich snippet requirements. It can seem like a daunting task, but creating these individual pages and content snippets centred around specific semantic questions can help your site not only show up in voice search results but at the top of any text-based search as featured snippets.

6. Pump Up Your Microdata

Make it as easy as possible for Google to crawl your website and understand what it’s about. This will increase the chances that the search engine will use your content to answer voice search queries. To do this, in addition to adding your Google My Business information, you’ll need to submit a sitemap to Google including information such as: prices, directions to your physical location, store hours, and your address and phone number. Next, use microdata to help Google understand what this text means. Create markups for various use cases. For example, here’s a rich snippet Google returned for “How many people live in the bahamas.”

Bahamas voice search.

Google knew what answer to display for my questions because of a microdata markup on the World Bank site. To ensure your microdata is structured correctly, visit Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper and learn the different kinds of content you can markup. It will also walk you through the process and help you create the right HTML.

7. Understand the Unique Ways People Play with Voice Search

If you've ever used Siri, Cortana or OK Google yourself, you’re probably guilty of joking around with these personal assistants. And, if you haven’t, there’s plenty of fodder for your next play session in such articles as: 140 Questions Siri Has Hilarious Answers For, 70+ Awesome Ok Google Voice Commands, and 131 Questions to Ask Cortana. The point is, it’s important to understand how users are playing with voice search because it gives us insight on how users interact with these technologies. While most of the answers you read will probably be irrelevant to your business, others might give you ideas about how you can optimize for voice search on your site. You may even find a way to inject some humour into your copy and engage with customers in a brand-new way.

The Future of Voice Seach

As the world of search continues to evolve, marketers must learn new strategies to keep up with these changes. Follow the tips in this post to ensure you’re a step ahead of your competitors when it comes to voice search.

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